The Sorority You Don't Want To Join: The Brotherhood And Sisterhood Of Cancer

06/05/2011 11:08 am ET | Updated Aug 05, 2011

We all want to feel part of something, our families, our friends, our cities, our countries, some, part of the world. Connected to people and places, having a kinship, a camaraderie, a one with all.

There is one sorority or fraternity we dread joining; brotherhoods or sisterhoods that form when we become part of the ranks of those afflicted with cancer. Since cancer awareness seems to be on the rise, more and more folks turn to family members, loved ones, friends and friends of friends and literal strangers and bond in a true kinship that is uncanny in that I have never witnessed this happening with any other disease. And unfortunately I have been around a few in my day.

Caring for a loved one with cancer, being there, going through it, being an advocate, doing all one can do, I thought I would know the feelings, know the pain and the panic. I didn't. The shock that swept through my body and numbed my mind was catastrophic. I had had lumps and bumps and swellings and any number of other "iffy" problems. I had done needle biopsies, biopsies, mammograms, ultrasounds and MRIs and was never really frightened, never thought it was anything in an "ignorance is bliss mode" to be sure. When I was called back for testing, I wasn't going to go. I had been cleared. I had just returned from a trip, was feeling great and thought it probably wasn't important. When the nurse pushed the panic button, I foolishly believed she was overreacting.

When I saw the technician nurse's face I knew. It was a greeting, but her face said it all. I had joined the "afflicted" ranks. I noted her name and reminded myself that if all of this turned out negative I would go and talk to her after because her expression had ripped me to my soul. I didn't have to.

What got me through: special people, family, friends and the kindness of strangers. The docs were great -- super great -- and gave me home phone numbers and cell numbers. But in this case, everyone who has had cancer had a story and they were all willing to share theirs in the hope it would shed some light on mine and give me some comfort. I didn't tell many people. My special person suggested I keep mum, after all I didn't want cancer to be the topic of every conversation, having people look at me with that "look." I thought it overkill at first, then I was and still am thankful I took his advice. It allowed me the experience I wanted, the communication I wanted and the ability to channel what I wanted to say or not say -- not be beholden to the "good intentioners" and what they felt I should do or not do, trying to regulate my behavior to whatever they had read, seen or felt and thought right in their book.

Those who had been in my shoes, those folk I loved and loved me, I got to know and to appreciate in ways I couldn't have imagined before. How do you know if someone is "there" for you? Well get cancer. You will soon find out. People came out of the woodwork to help and to rally, going above and beyond, and the outpouring of love overwhelmed me. I realized that special person loved me more than I dared believe. I could see it in his eyes and in his gestures. I experienced and felt the love of close friends and family. The "strangers" became kin. I shared their love, their compassion and their intentions to give back, to help, to comfort, to serve and to support. They too were "there" for me beyond the call of duty. I knew I was blessed. This heartfelt kindness from folks I didn't know well or didn't know at all, had a gentleness of spirit that transcends the norm. Is this the illusion of being in the same boat? We're no,t of course. All cancers are different, and while we like to think, to pretend we are immortal, well, we know we're not. We are all in that boat to be sure.

I think this disease forces us to face our mortality head on and, in doing so, we express a goodness, a caring and a love of our fellow man we all have deep down, a love that cuts through all the masks, makes us real, makes us truthful and makes us the loving human beings at heart we really are.

Am I suggesting an upside to this disease? No. Far from it. That said I embrace what it taught and I cherish the love and the kinship it allowed to surface. I am grateful to be able to share that love as a member of this sorority I definitely didn't want to join but now that I am a certified member of this informal network I am happy to re-gift the caring, sharing support and compassion to new members in a true "do unto others." In this special sorority, it is unconditionally practiced not preached. A lesson for us all.